December is one of those months which is even busier than normal in the church. Many groups want to mark the coming of Christmas. Calthorpe academy have used the church for their Christmas celebrations for many years (I can’t find out exactly how many but at least 18 years). Last year Chandos had a Carol Service in St Alban’s for the first time. It is likely that St Alban’s school/academy have celebrated Christmas in church since the founding of the first St Alban’s school in 1871. Holding these celebrations is very much in the spirit of James and Thomas Pollock who came to this area to spread the gospel among the deprived people of Victorian Highgate.
Purists would argue that we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas until sunset on Christmas eve, except, perhaps, for a carol service on the last Sunday in Advent. I have some sympathy for that point of view because I feel that I have lost my enthusiasm by Christmas day. However, Christians are now a minority in the UK and if we are to hold true to the great commission the Jesus gave, or indeed the faith that drove the Pollock brothers, we need to engage with modern secular society. To remind us of the Great Commission: Jesus said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV).
So, like it or not, we are compelled to put up Christmas services in Advent and Christmas trees earlier that we would like as well as Christmas carols sung in Advent. Not to do so would be a betrayal of both Jesus, the founder of The Church, and the Pollock brothers, founders of our church.
What then, amidst the secularisation of Christmas can we do to keep Advent and Christmas special? I think the answer is our own life of prayer and fasting. We might have to eat social mince pies but we don’t have to have private ones. Our inner spiritual life can still be once of penance and expectation when all around us Christmas is being celebrated. Maranatha – Come Lord Jesus can be on our mantra.
On a different topic, we are certain to end this year with a sizable deficit in our unrestricted funds. We also face uncertainty over our building: even if we get the grant for our roof from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we will still have to find the rest of the funding. Even under the most optimistic scenario this will cause a considerable depletion of our funds. Christmas is a time when we think about giving, please thing about giving to St Alban’s Church otherwise we are going to be in a serious, possible untenable position next year. As an institution we do so much for this area with our partners in the foodbank and with Stanhope hall, it would be a great shame if all of this had to come to an end.
I don’t want to end on a bad note though. Let us spend the next few weeks preparing for the coming of Jesus in contemplation, prayer and penance. Then when Christmas arrives we will have a true spirit of celebration.